Cinderella Finds a Home in Eugene

That glass slipper fits just fine over those webbed feet.

Oregon, a 12-seed in the South Region, and the lowest seed remaining, advanced past 13-seed UC-Irvine 73-54 and into the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years.

The Ducks will now travel to Louisville and take on 1-seed Virginia Thursday night.

Also playing the role of Cinderella was UC-Irvine, who was 31-5 coming in the game, and on a 17-game winning streak. They had just won the program’s first ever NCAA tourney game two nights before with a win over Kansas State.

But the Anteaters haven’t seen a suffocating defense quite like what the Ducks put on the floor and for most of the game, Oregon’s defense was just that. UC-Irvine is one of the best defensive teams itself in the country, but it doesn’t have the size and length of a Kenny Wooten on the inside or a Louis King on the outside.

Oregon was on a nice winning streak too, winning nine straight coming in. The Ducks found just enough offense in the right times to extend that streak to 10.

Payton Pritchard led the Ducks with 18 points with King adding 16. Pritchard was 7-of-18 from the field, but it seemed like every time Oregon needed a big three-pointer, the junior point guard managed to sink one.

The biggest basket by far came from Ehab Amin, who continues to play his best basketball in March. UC-Irvine began the second half on a 14-0 run to erase a 35-23 deficit. Oregon didn’t score for the first five and a half minutes, but when Amin sank a corner three to grab the lead right back, the flood gates were let open.

King followed with a three of his own and Oregon went on a 15-3 run to lead 50-40, ending on one of Wooten’s many thunder dunks.

The sophomore center was an X-factor defensively as well as he swatted away shot after shot like flies. Wooten had seven blocks in all, which demoralized the Anteaters.

In order for a team to make a serious run in this tournament, it needs to have significant contributions from role players and for Oregon, it’s been Amin. One could say his defensive efforts in the Pac-12 tourney could have made him the MVP in Las Vegas. And now Amin is continuing his defensive harassment of opponents in the NCAA tournament.

He also managed to bank in a three to beat the shot clock to give the Ducks an 11-point lead with five minutes to go. That three set off another 8-0 run to give the Ducks an 18-point lead and the game.

Now the Ducks will take on the Cavaliers from the ACC. Virginia is 31-3 and advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 63-51 win over Oklahoma. It’s also a defensive-minded team that plays in the 50s and 60s.

But the Cavs have shown that they could be upset. Last season, they were the first 1-seed to lose a 16-seed and for a half, it looked like it might happen again in 2019.

Virginia came out very slow against Gardner-Webb, even looking at a double digit deficit, before playing Cavalier basketball in the second half and winning 71-56.

The Ducks and Cavaliers are scheduled to tip at 6:57 PST Thursday on TBS.

~ Don Smalley